When Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Carnegie founded Carnegie Institute in 1895, one of his bold ambitions was to create a museum of modern art. The Carnegie International, the exhibition series he established in the following year, would become the linchpin of that scheme. Through the exhibition, Carnegie sought to educate audiences, attract the art world to Pittsburgh, and above all, to enrich the museum's permanent collection through the purchase of the "old masters of tomorrow."
With the first Carnegie International came the acquisition of Winslow Homer's The Wreck (1896) and James A. McNeill Whistler's Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Senor Pablo de Sarasate (1884), the first Whistler painting to be acquired by an American museum. Nearly one hundred years later, more than 300 works have entered The Carnegie Museum of Art's permanent collection through past Internationals, including works by Georg Baselitz, Mary Cassatt, Willem de Kooning, James Ensor, Childe Hassam, Edward Hopper, Anselm Kiefer, Camille Pissarro, George Roualt, John Singer Sargent, and Richard Serra, among others.
While the mission of the International has remained constant over the years, it has had many incarnations. In 1896, the show was established as a yearly survey and presented as the Annual Exhibition. The presence of prominent figures such as Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Pierre Bonnard, Thomas Eakins, Robert Henri, and Winslow Homer on the International juries of award was testament to the scope of the Carnegie Institute's ambitions. However, relatively few avant-garde works appeared in these exhibitions. It was not until Henri Matisse's work won first prize in 1927 that a modern artist was truly recognized.
By the 1950s, the Carnegie International emerged as an influential exhibition of the avant-garde, documenting the rise of significant developments such as abstract expressionism. During these years, jurors included Marcel Duchamp, Vincent Price, Ben Shahn, and James Thrall Soby. Willem de Kooning's Woman VI (1953) and Franz Kline's Siegfried (1958), along with many works by leading European artists, were purchased for the museum from that decade's Internationals.
In 1950 the exhibition, renamed the Pittsburgh International, became biennial, and in 1955, triennial. During the 1970s the name was changed to the International Series, and broke with tradition to present one- and two-person exhibitions. In 1977, the exhibition featured the work of Pierre Alechinsky, and in 1979, that of Eduardo Chillida and Willem de Kooning.
The show returned to the original 1896 anthology format in 1982, and the name Carnegie International was adopted. The exhibition was reestablished as the preeminent international survey of contemporary art in America with the acclaimed 1985, 1988 and 1991 exhibitions. The 1995 Carnegie International was planned to coincide with The Carnegie's Centennial celebration.
The Carnegie Prize was re-instituted in 1985 and awarded to Anselm Kiefer for Midgard (1980-85) and to Richard Serra for Carnegie 1985. In 1988, Rebecca Horn was the recipient for The Hydra Forest (1988), and in 1991, On Kawara won for his well-known date paintings.